Matt Jaffe & The Distractions
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Release date: 3.3.17
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Matt Jaffe Embarks On First National Tour September 8thRead More
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Matt Jaffe had to leave California in order to discover it. As a teenager, he relocated from the Bay Area to New England after enrolling in college, but an epiphany about where he belonged prompted him to pack his bags, drop out of school, and return to the Golden State. Now at 21, Jaffe's established himself as one of San Francisco's most exciting young artists, and he's got an exhilarating debut full-length album to prove it.
"When I went to the East Coast for a while, that really got me thinking about the concept of home and where I come from," says Jaffe. "I guess it takes leaving a place to really understand why you like it. I realized California's been home to all this incredible punk and rock and neo-country western music. I don't write to be part of a tradition, but it's an appealing thing to walk in the footsteps of these great California songwriters like Dave Alvin or John Doe or Chuck Prophet."
Jaffe's new album, 'California's Burning,' follows his critically acclaimed 2014 EP, 'Blast Off,' which PopMatters praised as "relentlessly hooky [and] wickedly clever." The San Francisco Chronicle hailed Jaffe's songs as "high velocity," while BlackBook dubbed his writing "an historically-aware breath of fresh air," and Entertainment Weekly compared his music to The Clash and Talking Heads. The latter comparison should come as little surprise considering it was Talking Heads' Jerry Harrison that first discovered the teenage phenomenon performing at an open mic night, but Jaffe's sound is uniquely his own, and the EP earned him dates with a wide spectrum of artists—everyone from Mavis Staples to Allen Stone to Blues Traveler—and solidified his status as a rapidly rising favorite in the Bay Area.
It was during that same period that Jaffe's songwriting began to evolve, as he transformed the energy of his youthful and rebellious spirit into a more mature, nuanced reflection of the world around him. Still heavily influenced by the punk and new wave sounds that shaped the 'Blast Off' EP, Jaffe found himself drawn for the first time to classic country records and the vivid, sometimes haunting characters and worlds they depicted.
"I got really into listening to songwriters who are also great storytellers," Jaffe explains, "guys like Blackie Farrell and Guy Clark. We started adding 'Folsom Prison Blues' into our live sets as a way of contextualizing our own material. Having that narrative thread is a big part of the American musical tradition, and that really influenced the writing and the structuring of this album."
The story that emerges on 'California's Burning' is one of danger and darkness, of men burdened by regrets and living on the run. Jaffe takes us to the state's seedy underbelly to find what lurks in the shadows of the glitz and glamour. This is not the California of The Beach Boys or the Grateful Dead, but rather Raymond Chandler and Alfred Hitchcock.
"I think California has such a bizarre reputation, not only in the rest of the country but in the rest of the world," reflects Jaffe. "I wanted to capture the feeling of California noir you get from a film like 'Chinatown,' to give the place an extra layer that I think is often lost."
In "Fire On The Freeway," drought-stricken residents resort to drinking the saltwater as they watch ferocious wildfires scorch their way into town, ultimately choosing to jump into the sea rather than burn alive. "Hellhounds of Alcatraz" re-imagines San Francisco Bay as the River Styx from the perspective of a fugitive escaping the iconic island prison, while "Write A Song About Me" refers to Jaffe's home as "the city by the fault," and "Locomotive Lightning" paints a portrait of empty reservoirs and abandoned shopping malls.
"I try not to write overly naturalist lyrics about the mountains and the streams," Jaffe says with a laugh. "Images of fire and drought were coming up frequently in my lyrics, though, and we just embraced it. A lot of those issues were coming to a head while I was writing, and it's something that's plagued the state for a long time. I wanted to capture the ways that we're destroying this place we love. It's a more complex state than a lot of people understand it to be."
Recorded with his longtime band, The Distractions (bassist Paul Paldino, drummer Thomas Yopes, and guitarist Adam Nash), 'California's Burning' marks Jaffe's first time self-producing and showcases his impressive skills behind the board in addition to his prodigious talents as a vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist. Chasing a raw and unfiltered sound, Jaffe and the band cut the entire album over five days, performing live to two-inch tape.
"We didn’t do it to be hip or even really for the analog sound, but just to limit ourselves," he explains. "I think putting myself in a box actually makes me more creative. Endless possibility is kind of stifling, so we tried working within the parameters of the tape machine."
The resulting recordings capture the electricity and the exhilaration of Jaffe's live show with The Distractions. "Wander No More" calls to mind country/punk hybrids like The Old 97's and The Blasters, while "I Wanna Be Cruel" channels the deliberate antagonism of Dylan, and "Tomorrow's On Our Side" taps into the doomed youth rebellion of Springsteen. Musically, Jaffe covers a broad swath of territory, equally comfortable going straight for the jugular with a massive pop hook on "Love Is Just A Drug" as he is stripping things back to the Gram-and-Emmylou basics of "Red Snow." Throughout, the songs are unembellished and straightforward, as close to the sound of being in the room with the band as they tear through their set as you can get.
In that sense, 'California's Burning' represents a moment in time, a snapshot of a band barely old enough to drink but already fast-becoming veterans of the scene. It's also a snapshot of the place Jaffe calls home and the complicated feelings it evokes. California is the setting here, but it's also a character, with a siren call so strong it brought the young songwriter all the way back across the country to follow his dream. For Matt Jaffe, it turns out, home is where the art is.
- The Alternate Root
- The Bluegrass Situation
- Independent's Day
- Music Existence
- Northern Transmissions
- Ones to Watch
- Pancakes & Whiskey
- Paste (live session)
- Relix (session)
- San Francisco Examiner
- SF Weekly
- All Things Go
- Boing Boing
- Entertainment Weekly
- Huffington Post
- Music Connection
- Music Existence
- Music Times
- Pancakes and Whiskey
- Paper Mag
- Red Bull Music
- San Francisco Chronicle
- The Vinyl District